According to data compiled by the Florida Department of Corrections, over 10,000 children have been charged with adult crimes within the state over the past five years. Sadly, this figure places the state of Florida at the top of the national list in terms of the number of children forced to face adult charges for their crimes – a statistic against which a Bradenton juvenile attorney will boldly fight.
If you or your child are facing adult charges or believe the state may seek to utilize the its “direct file” option to bring about adult charges, contact the juvenile attorneys at the Fowler Law Group right away to help combat this devastating phenomenon.
Current Status of ‘Direct File’ Laws
Under the current laws, there are two ways in which a juvenile’s criminal case may end up in the adult court system. The first, known as a mandatory direct file, mandates the immediate transfer of a juvenile case from juvenile court to adult court without exception and without a hearing to determine whether adult court is the appropriate tribunal. Mandatory direct files apply to children who are at least 16 years of age and are charged with certain felonies, including arson, murder, rape, or carjacking.
The other type of direct file, known as a discretionary direct file, applies to children who are at least 14 years of age and are alleged to have committed one of 19 violent felonies listed in Section 985.557(1) of the Florida Penal Code, including arson, battery, assault, kidnapping, murder and several theft crimes. In a discretionary direct file case, the prosecutor may – but is not required – to transfer the file to adult court. And, as with mandatory direct files, there is no opportunity for a hearing to determine whether adult court is an appropriate tribunal or whether the alleged facts warrant a transfer to the adult system.
Lawmakers Propose a Change
On September 2, 2015, Florida lawmakers proposed a bill that would implement several amendments to the direct file system. Specifically, if passed in its current form, HB 129 would result in the following changes:
- Direct transfers will be prohibited if the child is found incompetent.
- Courts can overturn direct files and remand the case to juvenile court.
- Judges will be required to document findings of fact and reasons for the decision to allow or disallow transfers.
- Reverse waivers” of the direct transfer will be allowed and shall be decided following a hearing.
- The court will consider certain factors about the child, including mental health history, family background and history of exposure to domestic violence.
If passed, HB 129 would create a much greater buffer between an accused juvenile and the harshness of the adult penal system, as well as make it more difficult for prosecutors to refer young children who may be suffering from severe mental health afflictions to adult court.
Contact a Bradenton Attorney Today!
If you are facing juvenile criminal charges and would like to speak to a reputable and compassionate juvenile attorney, please contact our office at (941) 900-3100.